The Evolution of Global Society in Human History: A Review of Barry Buzan’s Interpretation

Book Review: “The Evolution of Global Society in Human History”
Author: Barry Buzan, London School of Economics and Political Science
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Publication Details: Online publication date: July 2023, Print publication year: 2023
ISBN: 9781009372169
Series: Cambridge Studies in International Relations
Subjects: Historical Sociology, Politics and International Relations, International Relations and International Organisations, Sociology

Barry Buzan is a prominent figure in International Relations (IR), widely recognized for his seminal contributions to studying global security, international systems, and the conceptualization of international society. Among his notable works are “People, States and Fear: An Agenda for International Security Studies in the Post-Cold War Era” and “The United States and the Great Powers: World Politics in the Twenty-First Century,” which have significantly shaped the IR and security studies discourse. Buzan’s affiliation with the English School of IR has been pivotal in advancing the understanding of how states interact through power politics and norms, institutions, and shared identities.

In his recent book, “Making Global Society: A Study of Humankind Across Three Eras”, Barry Buzan embarks on an ambitious journey to reinterpret human history through the lens of institutional transitions, aiming to bridge the analytical gap between traditional IR theories and global history. At the heart of Buzan’s narrative is the transition to a modern global society, characterized not by a discrete leap into modernity in the nineteenth century but as a protracted process beginning from that century and continuously unfolding to the present day. This perspective challenges conventional periodizations of modernity, suggesting instead that we are still experiencing the maturation of modernity, marked by turbulence and uneven development.

Buzan’s central thesis revolves around the dichotomy of ‘material conditions’ and ‘social structure’, applying this framework across different sectors and eras to illustrate the evolution of human society. He replaces the English School’s triad with a more nuanced categorization of domains of interaction: the interpolity, the transnational, and the interhuman, thus offering a fresh approach to understanding global historical processes. This binary serves as the analytical backbone of the book, providing a lens through which the institutional development of human societies can be examined over the last 50,000 years.

The book’s ambition to offer a “new way to write world/global history” and its provision of a conceptual toolkit for viewing human history as a cohesive whole are among its most significant contributions. However, this ambition also invites a critical examination of its approach to synthesizing a vast array of historical data and theoretical perspectives. The effort to maintain a singular narrative and conceptual framework, while innovative, sometimes risks oversimplifying the complexities and heterogeneities inherent in global history. This is evident in the book’s treatment of capitalism, international law, and histories of race and racialisation, where Barry Buzan’s narrative might be seen as sidelining the rich and critical debates that have emerged in these fields.

Barry Buzan’s methodological proposition provides an intriguing framework for analyzing the institutional development of human societies across three distinct eras. This approach allows for a dynamic understanding of history, where different pieces (or institutional factors) can be reassembled to form varying configurations representative of different historical periods. However, this model’s emphasis on coherence and pattern may inadvertently obscure the messiness and contingency inherent in historical processes.

The book’s exploration of the transition to modernity, particularly its neglect of the development of capitalism as a structural process, raises important questions about the relationship between economic systems and societal transformations. Barry Buzan’s reluctance to delve deeply into capitalism’s role in shaping modernity reflects a broader tendency within the work to prioritize institutional dynamics over economic and material conditions. This choice, while methodologically justified, may overlook the profound impact of capitalist development on the global social structure.

In conclusion, “Making Global Society” stands as a monumental effort to encapsulate the intricate web of institutional interactions that have shaped human history. While its ambitious scope and novel theoretical contributions are commendable, the work also prompts reflection on the limits of singular narratives in capturing the multifaceted nature of global historical development. Despite these critiques, Buzan’s book is undeniably a valuable resource for scholars and students alike, offering a comprehensive and accessible synthesis of the forces that have shaped our global society. It is a testament to Barry Buzan’s scholarly rigor and his dedication to expanding the horizons of International Relations theory and global history.

Sosyal Medyada Paylaş


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